NutDriver Racing   Carl

We didn't get as many photos as some years but did get some good ones. Click any thumbnail image below to see a larger version of the photo. This page and all images (except the Road Atlanta track map) and the event ticket are Copyright © 2004, Douglas N. Franklin. All rights reserved.
Ticket 2004 marked the seventh annual Petit le Mans at Road Atlanta. This penultimate event in the 2004 American le Mans Series (ALMS) season always provides exciting racing, and 2004 was no exception. The event took place the weekend of the 22nd through the 25th of September. On the 22nd and 23rd Righty worked corners for the practice days, while we both spectated on the 24th and 25th.

So far, The Nuts have attended all of the Petit le Mans events so far, and we hope to continue the streak in the future. As we have the past couple of years, we sprang for the Mulsanne Chalet premium tickets. In addition to entrance all four days and paddock access, the Mulsanne Chalet package also includes paddock parking on Saturday and hospitality service on Friday and Saturday. They served the same food as in the past, but the “goodie bag” was a bit better than the last couple of years. Having the closed circuit television and open bar was, as usual, great.

This event improves every year, and 2004 raised the bar again, surpassing all previous Petit le Mans events. Luckily, the public seems to agree with us. The turnout seemed at least as good as last year, maybe better, based on the parking inside and outside the track property. The weather was wonderful, with clear skies, lots of sun, and cool temperatures with lows in the sixties and highs in the eighties. September is definitely a better bet than October for this race, weather-wise.

As with the past couple of years, the staring grid was open to all spectators for a “Grid Walk” right before the race. This made the event a lot more interesting for many people, as exemplified by the huge crowd that swarmed onto the grid when the gates were opened. Adding in the fact that all tickets provided paddock access and the autograph session “Pit Walk” on Friday, the crowd had quite a bit of access to the drivers and teams. The sanctioning bodies and teams also provided “Tech Talk” sessions explaining the technology of ALMS racing and providing question and answer sessions for the spectators.

Strangely, there didn't seem to be any more efforts at crowd and traffic control on the track property, the infield traffic actually seemed to be a little less trouble this year than the last couple of years. Road Atlanta did widen the “bottleneck” road between the main part of the infield and the section bounded by turns 5, 6, 7, and 8 (the “backfield”, in the upper right of the track map above), which made a big difference. They still need to do some work on the rest of the infield roads, though. Getting around and across the “Suzuki Bridge” (top of the hill at Turn 11) and the “Vendor Village” were troublesome at best and nearly impossible at worst.

Test Days

We both worked the “test days” the weekend before the event. James Weaver of the Dyson Race Team gave an on-track clinic in consistency and speed, especially Sunday afternoon. The Nuts worked Road Atlanta‘s Turn 3 that day. Mr. Weaver seemed to get one bad set of tires or something, and had trouble on three particular laps, but otherwise set a driving standard no one else could live up to that day.

Unfortunately for the Acemco team, their Saleen S7 lost a wheel coming down the hill to Turn 12, and heavily impacted the wall just before the starter's stand. They got something ready for the race, but we think it might have been the “T” car, due to the amount of damage done to the #63 car. Effectively, the entire left front corner of the car was “wiped off” by the front stretch wall.

The #24 Alex Job Racing McKenna Porsche 911 GT3 RS also had some trouble during the test days. Hitting the wall after problems negotiating Turn 7, the #24 suffered moderate body damage and destroyed one radiator. They fixed the car during the week, though, and were on the grid Saturday morning for the Petit.

The Gag

We again ended up in the Sunday supplement for the local Gwinnett newspaper the week before the race, a photo from last year's starting grid with us in both suits and hats. Earl Fannin, the head of PR for Road Atlanta was nice enough to give us a couple of these inserts for our scrapbooks.

Since neither the Panoz team nor any customers ran the Panoz LMP prototype cars this year, we had to do something different for our gag. So, we decided to make hats for the two cars that “backflipped” at earlier Petit le Mans events (a Porsche GT-1 in 1998 driven by Yannick Dalmas and a BMW LMR in 2000 driven by Bill Auberlen).

We were going to make the model cars on our hats “backflip” using electric remote control hardware, but we ran out of time to get that working so we stuck with a static display that made them look like they were lifting off. This year's hats got a decent reaction, but not nearly the level of the last two years. I doubt we'll be in the Sunday Supplement next year. Below you'll find a few pictures of us and the hats.

The Program

Ticket In addition to the marquee American le Mans Series (ALMS) Petit le Mans event, the program included the following support races: In addition, the TONKA Super Truck series was scheduled to run, but did not. Non-race events included in the program included:
  • The Mazda Extreme Street show and competition for modified (“tuner”) street cars
  • Johnny O’Connell’s charity auction Friday evening
  • Sony’s trailer showing off the long-promised and soon-to-be-released (supposedly) Grand Turismo 4 (GT4) video game for the PlayStation2 gaming system. Righty got over to the trailer and tried out Grand Turismo 4 on the PlayStation2. He was quite impressed, especially with the graphics.
  • Chevrolet’s “autocross test drive” of a number of their 2005 model cars

The Star Mazda Race

We spent much of the Star Mazda race Friday afternoon observing from the outside of Turn 10A. It was a great race, with lots of close competition, especially at this critical turn. For one thing, Turn 10A provides great opportunities for overtaking in the braking zone. For another, drivers must negotiate Turn 10B well because it sets the tone for the run all the way to Turn 1. To cap it all off, the Turn 10A/10B complex consists of two almost-ninety-degree corners (left then right) with a very short chute between them. Combined, these points make for a lot of action at 10A/10B.

We got some good photos of the action at that very tough part of the course. Lefty was running low on film, so decided to stop taking photos for the day. Then, on the last (or next-to-last) lap, someone got a little too enthusiastic trying to make a pass in the braking zone for 10A, resulting in a big wreck right in front of us. And there we stand with an empty camera!

Lock Up at T10A
The #58 car miscalculates the braking rate of the #72 car entering Turn 10A and locks up his brakes.
Outbraking Into T10A
The #72 car outbrakes the #45 entering Turn 10A. Notice the smoke around the front tires as they're pushed just to the edge of lockup.
Battle for Position into T10A
The #38 car and the #26 Smith Sunglasses car battle for position entering Turn 10A.
Collision Exiting T10A
The #26 car passes on the outside after the #38 car has collided with the #43 car exiting Turn 10A. The #26 car has its brakes locked and will end up going out the back of Turn 10B into the grass and continuing. The #38 car is done for the day, as you can see from the condition of its left front wheel assembly, broken during the impact with the #43 car.
#27 into T10B Lead pack goes into T10A Battle into T10A #76 into T10B
#97 through T10A #70 entering T10B #33 entering T10B #87 through T10A
#67 entering T10B #58 entering T10B #76 & #34 battle entering T10B Dogfight into T10A
  Battle entering T10B Aftermath  

The Petit le Mans

It was sad to go to a Petit le Mans and not see a Panoz prototype on track. We were huge fans of the old “batmobile” and the newer LMP01 chassis. The LMP07 never really got off the ground, but was a very nice looking car. Hopefully the folks at Panoz and LMR Racing have better luck in the GTS class with the Esperante GT-LM. The Nuts surely wish them luck and we'll be rooting for them.

Starting Grid Team on the Starting Grid
The #60 Porsche 911 GT3 and team “horse around” with their cool suit systems.

At the start of the Petit le Mans race, one of the Vipers stalled on the starting grid. When the crash truck tried to pull it off the front stretch, the tow “eye” pulled loose from the car. That left the Viper sitting there, in the middle of the front stretch, with the leaders coming by at over 100 mph. After the first few cars passed the incident, the stewards finally put the pack under full-course caution until the Viper was pulled fully clear.

We were glad to see Milka Duno, along with her teammates Clint Field and Robin Liddell get another win in the P2 class for the Intersport team, finishing sixth overall.

On Track Action
Pace Car Three Wide Entering T7
The #30 CITGO Intersport Lola B2K with Milka Duno at the wheel passes the #13 Hazardous Motorsports Lola ??? on the inside between Turns 6 and 7 while both pass the #44 Flying Lizard Porsche 911 GT3.

Course Workers and Friends

We visited with some of our friends on the corners during the event, particularly at turns three, seven, and eight.

We chatted briefly with Tom Hnatiw of Dream Car Garage on Speed TV.

We visited with our good friend Ron Zappendorf of Discovery Parts in the “Vendor Village” in the infield. Righty even bought another helmet.

We ran into Bryan Willman, driver for Team Bucknum Racing. Ironically enough, it turns out he's a computer geek in his real life (just like Lefty), working on computer security and cryptography for Microsoft.

T10 Flag station T11 cross-track station T10 cross-track station T10 Flag station
T10 cross-track station T10 Flag station T10 Flag station T7 cross-track Flag Station
T7 Flag Station T7 cross-track Flag Station T7 workers T3 Flag station
  Pit Out Flag Station    

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